The Spiritual Metaphor of Fire

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fireSome weeks back a number of the Beams & Struts crew was at a party at Br. Juma's house. As the night grew cooler we started a fire in the backyard inside Juma's barbeque grill. Br. TJ talked about the capacity of a fire to hold a person (like himself) completely entranced, to the point where he would lose track of time and space, forgetting himself in ecstasy.

This conversation reminded me of some of these powerful fire metaphors for the spiritual life.  That conversation was the genesis of this article.  The fire photos that follow are all from that evening. A big shout out goes to Heather Olson and Jill Cherewyk for capturing these amazing photos and allowing me to use them for this piece.

The Relative and Absolute Paths 

Before I jump into the fiery metaphors of the spiritual life and what we can learn from them, allow me to introduce two Ken Wilber quotations that will help set the metaphors in the context of the entire spiritual journey.  The source for both quotations is this article by Ken published in EnlightenNext magainze. 


"The great wisdom traditions generally maintain that reality consists of at least three major realms: the gross, the subtle, and the causal. The gross realm is the realm of the material body and the sensory motor world—the world you can see with your physical senses in the waking state. The subtle realm is the realm of the mind and its displays, which you can see in a vivid form in the dream state, in certain states of meditation, and in (it is said) in the afterlife realms. All of these are subtle states of consciousness. The causal realm is the realm of pure formless consciousness, unlimited and unbounded, radically free and radically full. The causal realm is experienced by everybody in deep dreamless sleep (which is pure formlessness without an object), but it yields its final secrets only when it is entered with full consciousness, which happens with certain profound meditative states, various types of initial awakening and vastly expanded states of boundless consciousness.

But the traditions also maintain that, beyond those three great realms and states, there is a fourth state (turiya), the state of the ever-present Witness or pure Self, the great mirror-mind that impartially witnesses the waking, dreaming, and deep sleep states but is not itself a separate state: it is the Witness of all those states, and itself neither comes nor goes. (Technically, there is a fifth state, turiyatita, which occurs when the Witness itself dissolves into everything that is witnessed, and there is the pure nondual realization of One Taste."

The states break up into basic camps: relative (gross, subtle, causal) and Absolute (Witness/One Taste). Since The Witness is always present it is called Absolute. The other states—gross, subtle, and casual—are called relative because they are related to one another. The gross, subtle, and causal states come and go, they are constantly changing, whereas The Witness is unchanging.

With the changing and the unchanging, we see there are two orders of reality in the spiritual world—the relative and the Absolute dimensions of existence. Therefore there are two truths (one relative, one Absolute). Though they are not ultimately two different things (i.e. a duality), it is nevertheless helpful to distinguish the two.

And as Wilber points out here, there are therefore two fundamental spiritual ways or forms of realization (one for the relative and one for the Absolute):

"The relative world includes the gross, subtle, and causal realms. All of those are dualistic, for they embody some form of the subject-object dualism. Even the causal or formless realm is dualistic because it is set apart from the world of form. So all of the extraordinary states of consciousness that can be achieved or attained or practiced—all of them really only deal with the relative, dualistic world, however otherwise wonderful they might be.

But the absolute truth is the truth of the ever-present Self, the nondual, unqualifiable, omnipresent Spirit, where my Master is my Self, and that Self is timelessly and eternally present in all that arises in this and any world. And while you can reach and attain relative states, you cannot reach the absolute, for it is ever-present."


To reiterate: There are two spiritual paths, the relative and the Absolute. The relative path consists of the three-fold journey of gross, subtle, and causal. For example, in Buddhist terms this is sila (discipline), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (union). In Christian the terms are: purification, illumination, and union. We see that both are covering roughly the same territory.

The Absolute, on the other hand, is the Nondual.

Why this distinction is important is because it is helpful to know which dimension a various spiritual practice tends to connect to. Each domain has certain strengths and weaknesses and it's helpful to have a more integrated practice that seeks to include all of them.

So circling back to the beginning: how does any of the relative and Absolute discussion relate to a fire at Juma's house? Well, interestingly in various traditions the symbol of a fire has been used to cover both the relative and the Absolute forms of spiritual awakening. By studying these metaphors I think we will gain a more emotional sense of the distinction between relative and Absolute, which so far we have simply looked at in a cognitive sense.

I will begin with the relative path and its classic fire metaphor and then I will turn to the Absolute.


The Relative

The first highly developed metaphor comes from the Christian mystical tradition and covers the relative path of spiritual growth from purification (gross) through illumination (subtle), to union (causal). This metaphor of fire and wood (or fire and iron) is quite an ancient one, going back at least to the great Christian theologian Origen from the 3rd century, but it finds its most sophisticated version in the writings of the great Spanish mystic John of the Cross in the 16th century.

Imagine a damp piece of wood. The damp wood represents the deluded (pre-spiritual) human being. A person wishes to the light a fire that will kindle the wood. As the wood is very damp, it is quite difficult at first to get the wood to light. The fire of spiritual desire may light but then be snuffed out. This process of false starts may occur a few times. The flame is at first quite fragile and requires great care and constant attention.

This initial state of the wood speaks to the truth that when a person attempts to enter the spiritual life (in a radically transformative sense), they bring with them the accumulations and habits of their life. It's at first very hard to gain traction for the spiritual quest (represented by the lit fire) as the momentum of one's previous life (the dampness) is preventing the fire from lighting.

A person has to establish a new set of virtues and discipline (e.g. a daily meditation practice), will have to asses his/her relationships, career, psychological processes, emotional life, physical health and work to heal/integrate anything that is broken or disconnected. This is the path of purification (the discipline side).

At some point however the fire will get a base level established--i.e. the person will get some basic level of discipline required. As the established fire seeks to expand it will first have to burn off the layer of moisture before the wood will really start to crackle. The damp layer of moisture burns in a smoky fashion.

John of the Cross calls this initial smoky and rather unpleasant form of the fire The Dark Night of the Sense. The Dark Night of the Sense represents the transition from the gross to the subtle realms of experience or from purification to illumination. A person in the Dark Night of Sense is having their attachment to their gross physical reality waking-identity (i.e. personality) being burned away so that they can move into the deeper, subtler aspects of oneself, God, and the cosmos.

Once however the moisture evaporates completely, the wood will burn much hotter and cleaner. For John of the Cross this is the phase of illumination. Illumination is the subtle phase of human spiritual development, wherein one becomes sensitive to much subtler movements: e.g. the quiet inner voice, mystical visions, stunning dreams, inner heat or fire, etc. One is illuminated by this new kind of experiencing--represented by the increase blaze and incandescence of the fire.

The wood is now burning much closer to its core--i.e. the spiritual life is really driving deep towards the central reality of the individual soul.


Imagine however that deep within the recesses of this wood there lie putrid elements. As the fire burns down towards the core it will strike these diseased elements and it will burn them. As this burning occurs dark, ugly, foul-smelling billows of black smoke emerge from the fire. This for John of the Cross is The Dark Night of the Soul. The Dark Night of the Soul refers to the painful transition between the subtle illuminative phase and the causal-unitive phase.

The transition is so painful because one has to trust that this new phase of purgation, the dark billowing smoke, is actually the right course, rather than a wrong turn. Also ther may be a strong pull within the soul to hold onto to its pleasant spiritual experiences. Here the soul must face the penetrating question of whether it truly desires God alone and will therefore go through the smoke or wants the spiritual highs, i.e. the burning fire of the illuminative phase.

If the soul does however leap into the Dark Night (or is pulled inexorably into it), God becomes so close to the soul, it's as if God is behind the soul, coming into the soul's eyes so the soul may look out at the world from God's vantage point (with God's eyes as it were). God is no longer however out "in front of" the soul. The soul no longer "sees" God anywhere and this precipitates The Soul's Dark Night.*

If however the final putrid elements are burned away, then the fire once again burns most brightly--there are now coals, deep burning mature embers that alight whenever touched. This is the phase of causal-union. It is a transition into a permanent state of union with the Divine.

As John of the Cross says at this point the fire and the wood are indistinguishable to the touch. What he means by that is that the fire has so penetrated the wood that one cannot touch the wood without feeling the fire. In this view the wood and the fire do not merge in essentials but rather in expression. The wood is still wood as a substance and the fire is still fire--they are two different things. But they are now one in their common heat. By which John means the soul forever remains the soul while God is God (and the two are as different as wood and flame), yet when one encounters such a mystic saint in real life (e.g. Mother Theresa), one only "feels" the love of God (the fire). And while the wood may be wood and the fire fire, the wood only "feels" the fire. That is to say, the mystic in such a state only feels God as John of the Cross says—though he is careful to say that the soul and God are substantively two different things (though he admits from personal experience that distinction is not felt).

Since (according to this view) the soul remains the soul and God God, John's metaphor covers the relative path--wherein a self develops from a position of disconnection and alienation from God through purification and illumination to union with God (as a distinct entity). For the relative path it is important to never confuse the two realities, claiming that the wood somehow becomes the fire.


The Absolute

The wood may not ever become the fire, but it may be that the wood can become totally immolated in the fire.

And that leads us towards the Absolute spiritual reality. The Absolute spiritual truth (interestingly) has its own fire metaphor. The source of this next metaphor comes from (extremely controversial) spiritual teacher Adi Da.**

Da's fiery spiritual metaphor is the following.

Picture a bright-burning fire. A sacred fire. A person stands on the outside of the fire. All day long this person is throwing the elements of daily existence into the sacred fire.

For Da this is the essence, in fact the entire practice of the spiritual life--to constantly put the elements of life into the fire. To contemplate the fire and to place everything that arises into the fire.

To understand exactly what he means, a little background in Da's teaching is necessary. In Da's teaching attention represents the movement of a human being's mind, emotions, and will out into the world (or within to some inner experience). Once attention "goes out" for Da, it has left the space of Awareness, Consciousness, God, or whatever name we prefer. Once attention wanders then we fall into all sorts of patterns, contracting away in the Face of the Infinite Mystery within which we arise. In this movement of attention outward from its Source life arises (in part) as a reflection of where exactly we have contracted.

When attention is returned to the Source (The Fire) by placing it in the fire, there is a relaxation of our knotted inner self and we become entranced in contemplation of the fire. The elements of life are whatever arises in our experience. For Da, Absolute Realization is to stay fixed upon the contemplation of the fire and to sacrifice whatever arises into the fire—this is what throwing the elements of life into the fire means. By throwing the elements of life into the sacred fire, they become a sacrificial offering. They key for Da is that the fire is so beautiful and blissful, there is no great heroic effort on the part of the one throwing the elements of life into the fire. There's a desire to give them away, a desire to participate in a kind of magic, by throwing life into the fire—imagine black powder being thrown into the fire.

So while certain elements of life may make the fire spark up at various points, the fire clearly precedes the elements. The fire alone IS.

The fire is a sacrificial fire, a sacramental fire. Da admonished his students to "Keep Attention in the Sacrifice."

The sacrifice is a sacrifice by and of God. God is the Sacrifice and the Sacrificer. Creation, for Da, arises as this sacrificial act of God. Creation is a fire. Intriguingly this idea of the Universe as a fire is an image in the ancient Vedic religion of India and in the Christian religion, where Jesus in the New Testament describes how he came to set the world on fire.

There's a deep liberation in this way of sensing the spiritual life. There is no longer any momentum to "gain" something by meditation or spiritual practice. It undercuts the tendency towards "spiritual materialism" (in Trungpa Rinpoche's terms). There is no longer any need to accumulate so-called spiritual experiences. There is no fundamental lack or inadequacy when it comes to this domain on the part of anyone. The Absolute way is to be undone in God, to become a sacrifice. All the elements of life are going into the fire—even the so-called spiritual ones.


What this metaphor reveals is that God does the meditation (the fire is already going). Our job is not to learn individually how to become meditators so much as to simply be in God's meditation (i.e. keep putting our attention on the fire and throwing everything that arises into the fire).

The inquiry is very simple: "Where is my attention?" "Where do I feel the fire?"

When attention wanders (as it inevitably does), simply bring it back to the sacrificial fire that burns in one's heart. And then rest transfixed in contemplation of that glowing flame. When something arises, feel it sacrificed in the heat of the fire.

The Fire beautifully represents the nondual union of Form and Formlessness. The Fire is one fire, arising as if out of nowhere (with no stable foundation, as if "out of thin air"). But yet every moment the fire is a different fire--it takes different shapes and form moment to moment. The Fire in one way can be said to exist separate from the ever-changing forms and yet there is still One Fire in and through the moment to moment changing forms of the flame.

By continuing to place the elements of life into this Fire, the wood of our being burns faster and faster, until all that is left is the Fire itself. There is only Consciousness (God). From the nondual perspective, there is only The Fire. There is only the Sacrifice of the Heart.

A sacrifice is that which makes holy. In the Absolute state there is a realization we might term All Holiness. Everything that arises in the Absolute, including but not limited to us as individuals, arises as The Absolute.

And then one falls into the Ecstasy, the silence of contemplating The Fire, for there are no words.

The Mystery alone IS.


Postlude: A Third Truth? A Third Spiritual Way?

By putting the relative and the absolute paths into one framework we get a fuller, more inclusive (or integral) way of understanding the spiritual life. In other words, we can combine the metaphors. The relative path tends to primarily come from the point of view of the wood while the Absolute metaphor puts more focus on the Fire—though we see in the end these are simply different perspectives on the one communion.

What's most helpful about this framework is to figure out which types of spiritual practices tend to work more in the relative realm and which work more in the Absolute realm. Both have their strengths and their limitations.

The Absolute tradition helps us awaken to that which brings final and complete freedom. On the other hand, The Absolute does not make any real distinctions. It may not help us navigate the in the world of our choices. For in the Absolute, everything is already perfectly well.

The relative on the other hand has clear better and worse—more and less developed. But it never ultimately satisfies us, it never ultimately frees us.

By knowing this basic layout, we can find ways to incorporate both relative and Absolute modes in our spiritual practice. Relative practices do not need to be burdened with the need to Save or Free us ultimately (which they cannot). And the Absolute realm is not burdened with the task of making our lives better (it doesn't). Trust me, knowing that basic difference will save a person much heartache on the spiritual journey.


*The other analogy John of the Cross uses to distinguish the Dark Nights of Sense and Soul is of weeds in a garden. The Dark Night of Sense is pulling out the weeds from ground level. The Dark Night of the Soul is pulling/burning them out at the roots.

** This is not the place to get into an Adi Da fight/debate. All I'll say here is I think the metaphor he deploys is quite profound and has deeply shaped by my own spiritual practice and understanding. For that I'm deeply grateful. This doesn't mean I support everything he did (I don't). All I'm talking about here is the metaphor (as a brilliant guide to understanding the way). I truly believe all of us can gain powerful insights from flawed people. Their flawed realities (and I think Da was very flawed in some key respects) does not change such a beautiful expression of truth.

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  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Sunday, 25 September 2011 16:11 posted by Philip Corkill

    Dear Chris,

    I think this is superb.

    Though there's such an orderliness to the article it might make the fire seem a little too controlled. When you describe the fire of the absolute, I think the word "contemplation" doesn't quite do justice to what can be a raging and uncontrollable affair with a fire that isn't so much called to mind (as I understand contemplation) as that the mind and attention are called to it. A wise man once said: "to know god is to be consumed by him". I don't think "contemplation" describes that enough.

    But that's nitpicking as these things are notoriously difficult the write about and I think you do it very clearly.

    I wish I had read this article 15 years ago and committed to the third way. On the other hand I probably wouldn't have listened the way I can now and understood some of the confusions that can arise with regard to burdening our practices with the needs for fruits from another realm. Now I know intimately some of what your talking about and it rings very true.

    In some areas I get burned by trial and error.

    Concerning the third way I'm reminded of an initiation I took with my teacher.

    Prior to the ceremony I rushed around the retreat centre, excited by what I though would be a confirmation of certain awakenings. And I guess I also assumed that this would mean I was a better person. I shaved my head in a friends room that had an on suit bathroom and rushed to the meditation hall, full of myself.

    Later, blissed off my face and expecting congratulations from all sides, I encountered my friend, who said: "I don't give a shit what kind of bodhisattva you think you are, you can't just leave your hair in my bath tub!"

    That was a helpful heartache for me on the relative path.

    I'll be taking your musings on the third way with me...

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Sunday, 25 September 2011 20:35 posted by Philip Corkill

    Though much quoted I think it points to the third way brilliantly:

    Padmasambhava said,

    "My view is as vast as the sky, but my actions are finer than flour."


    "Although my view is higher than the sky, My (conduct) respect for the cause and effect of actions is as fine as grains of flour."


    "Though my View is as wide as all the Universe, My actions are as fine as powder [sand]."

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Monday, 26 September 2011 22:39 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Thanks for the comment.

    The other P-sambhava one I heard (from Lama Surya Das):

    Descending with the View, I climb the mountain of cause and effect.

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Wednesday, 28 September 2011 16:45 posted by Philip Corkill

    Christ! That's very powerful too.

    I'm always awestruck by the intelligence behind such statements. In one sentence and he can summarise an entire teaching in an way that's immediately applicable for the reader.

    Meanwhile your article is working on me at a deep place. It's hard to describe. There's a certain waste of energy that's been going on a long time in the confusion of my dedication to one form of practice being incompatible with the other. It needs a closer look in my life.

    I think it's on the "navigate the world of choices" side of things that some form of neglect has crept in.

    Can you recommend any sources of clarity and practice here? Especially ones that don't compromise the heat of the fire of absolute.

  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 28 September 2011 21:59 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    Chris, something has arisen lately that has me thinking of this piece. I've been spending some time with a book of poems by Christian mystics, put together by Roger Housden. In many of the poems there's an emphasis on the heart, bringing awareness into the heart, and importance of heart awareness practice etc.. I was wondering what if any relation the heart has to the metaphor of fire and what you've laid out in this piece. How would you locate this Christian heart centered tradition within what you've laid out above? A few words about that would be really helpful. I'll leave with a poem from that book.

    Images, However Sacred

    Images, however sacred
    they may be, retain
    the attention outside,
    whereas at the time of prayer
    that attention must be within-
    in the heart. The concentration
    of attention in the heart-
    that is the starting point of prayer.

    -Saint Theophan The Recluse

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 29 September 2011 23:01 posted by Chris Dierkes


    I'm really glad to hear this piece is working on you. The source that comes to my mind is some of the Big Mind home study videos. Particularly #3 (Awakened by the 10,000 Dharmas) and #6 (Teachings of Bodhidharma).

    Also Saniel Bonder's work is good on this.

    But also also, trust your own judgments and instincts. With that framework in mind, you might design a little life practice. Time for reseting in the One. Time for working on things you want to develop, time in group settings, time for heart work, time for shadow.

    There's certainly no one solution to the paradox.

    Hope that helps. As you proceed, let me know how it's going and we can chat.


  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 29 September 2011 23:13 posted by Chris Dierkes


    Good question.

    Again, this distinction of the relative and the Absolute shows up in Christian mysticism. So when people talk about heart mysticism, I think they need to specify what kind. Again these divisions aren't so black and white on the one hand, but in another sense they really sort of are. Without having experienced it, I can't really prove that to people.

    Thomas Keating calls Christian spirituality 'heartfulness' in contrast/comparison to Buddhism which is 'mindfulness.' So in the relative path of Christianity, there is training in the heart. The relative heart path of Christianity is really purification of one's intention--"Who do I really serve?" "What am I really after?"

    This is what the Dark Nights (of the Sense and the Soul) are really all about--they show us the gap between our stated intentions to be with God and our desires to be living for self.

    This is where shadow work and forgiveness integrate well with something like Centering Prayer or the Jesus Prayer tradition.

    The relative path is purification, illumination, and union. John of the Cross who I quote in this article is one of the genius realizers of this path. Along with Teresa of Avila, Gregory of Nyssa, Thomas Merton.

    There is an Absolute Nondual tradition of the Heart in Christianity as well. Cynthia Bourgeault has brought this out really well in her book on Jesus (Wisdom Jesus) and Mary Magdalene. She talks about kenosis--self-sacrifice in love. Cynthia talks about how Jesus taught the ancient path of nonduality but with a kenotic twist: a heart-based sacrificial path. It adds a warmth to awakening. Big Heart as well as Big Mind.

    Adi Da is the other Absolute Heart teacher. In some way the clearest and most forceful. His realization of the Liquidity of the Heart and the Melted nature of all Reality is in some ways unsurpassed. Heart Nectar he called it.

    What Da emphasized very strongly is that Awareness is a kind of Feeling. It is The Feeling of Being. So one can experience the awareness of Awareness as it were. That is a kind of experience where "All is Peace", "All is One", "All is Calm and at Peace and Rest." Like a tranquil lake.

    But there is also the possibility of realizing that the inner feeling of Being Itself is Heart. It is Radiant Heart Energy. This to me is a deeper form of awakening than the previous one by itself.

    Consciousness is Feeling from the Heart. In other words, Love.

    And in Jesus there is a radical emptying quality as that Love.

    The Christian Nondual Heart realizer who speaks most clearly on this point is a medieval woman named Hadewijch of Brabant.

    Here's one my favorite pieces from her:

    Love has subjugated me:
    To me this is no surprise,
    For she is strong and I am weak.
    She makes me
    Unfree of myself,
    Continually against my will.
    She does with me what she wishes;
    Nothing of myself remains to me;
    Formerly I was rich,
    Now I am poor: everything is lost in love.

  • Comment Link Chris Dierkes Thursday, 29 September 2011 23:14 posted by Chris Dierkes

    I should add no one has yet really worked on combining the relative and Absolute heart paths of Christianity. This is one of the things I'm trying to work on.

    The integral framework makes all of us this possible. It helps us see the landscape in a really profound way.

  • Comment Link Philip Corkill Saturday, 01 October 2011 21:39 posted by Philip Corkill

    Thanks Chris,

    Yes, that is useful. The Big Mind stuff has been on my radar for quite a while but it hasn't got close enough for me to engage it yet and I don't think it's the right thing at this time. Trusting my instincts as you say. Still, I wouldn't rule it out for the future.

    I love the way you're bringing in the gifts of flawed (as we all are) teachers here. As I don't see reality as black and white and we loose a great deal of wisdom when we judge our public figures, especially spiritual teachers, in that way. Much can be retrieved with a more nuanced approach. As your piece demonstrates.

    On that note I'll share that - after almost a year of acute illness, during which virtually no formal practice was possible - the practice that I have managed to resume from my earlier years of experience, is from the World of Osho.

    There, I've said it. If Andrew Cohen is controversial and Adi Da is "extremely controversial" then what can be said of Bagwhan Shree Rajneesh? But since the first two get a fair hearing here at Beams and Struts, I'm assuming I can cite some of this (flawed) blazing agitator's gifts here without causing a mud-fight.

    Incidentally, my former teacher, was a deep admirer of Teresa of Avila. On occasion she would have difficulties communicating because of what she called a Sunwind of love in her heart. Quite a fiery metaphor too. Come to think of it she also wrote a book called "Hütet das Feuer" (Tend the Fire)! All her work is in German but you can see her brutal radiance here:

    Sorry, I'm tired, I digress. So, my daily at the moment is the Chakra Sound Meditation (not as light weight as it sounds). This is soothing and challenging. With practice it really pulls the attention down into the body. The heart is a beautiful station on the way up and back down. Both poems you and Trevor posted address me there.

    So that will remain as part one of my life practice. It includes heart work and ends with resting in the One.

    Then, yes, Saniel Bonder's work looks very appealling. A while back I heard him in a dialogue with Terry Patten, who's work also speaks this kind of language. Both seem to include shadow work which I'm not so familiar with yet but by the looks of things shouldn't do without.

    And one thing I'm really missing these days, having moved away from Pyar's teaching, is a Sangha (which might explain my current addiction to Beams;-)

    So, thanks again for the input. I appreciate the offer and will enjoy letting you know if I go any further with this (got to be a little cautious at the mo)


  • Comment Link Trevor Malkinson Wednesday, 05 October 2011 17:39 posted by Trevor Malkinson

    cheers Chris, really helpful reply, thank you.

  • Comment Link Michael DeBaets Friday, 18 November 2011 01:34 posted by Michael DeBaets

    Hey Chris,

    This is a really cool post for me to read. I'm very into Bourgeault's description of kenosis.

    I think of it both as dying and as sacrifice of the will.

    You say: "It undercuts the tendency towards 'spiritual materialism' (in Trungpa Rinpoche's terms). There is no longer any need to accumulate so-called spiritual experiences. There is no fundamental lack or inadequacy when it comes to this domain on the part of anyone. The Absolute way is to be undone in God, to become a sacrifice. All the elements of life are going into the fire—even the so-called spiritual ones."

    In Revelation, John speaks of the one who accuses the Brothers and Sisters "day and night before our God / But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb. . . for they did not cling to life even in the face of death" (Rev 12.10-11)

    [I understand the blood of the Lamb as simply the movement of sacrifice]

    The absolute path to me is the path of not clinging to life. Something happens to you and it's profound and good, and soon your mind goes "but its good to let go. What are we letting go here? Should we let go, or should we let go of trying to let go?" which ends up skewering you until you sacrifice the whole thing and begin again.

    And insofar as we're identified with that conversation, it's a death. Luckily, the Trinity always catches us.

    I'm reminded of the idea 'if God doesn't build the house, it will not remain standing' - if we say that that the frantic conversation / argument is me, then it's necessary for me to die before God can come in and start building. I haven't read enough Merton to really argue this, but are you sure he emphasizes the relative path more? I think of his "dialogue of deep wills" in New Seeds of Contemplation - and I think of this negotiation between builders.

    I think Christianity actually has an advantage in the absolute path. We don't exactly have the full-lotus position, which is perhaps the bodily expression of causal awareness. No. We have instead Song and Silence. We affirm the exquisite goodness of our characteristic melodies / bodily tensions before we throw them (just as they are) into the silent, searing fire.

    I really like the ideas you're having, Chris, and I really want to hear more about translating both of these practices from within the Church. I also am motivated along these lines - proclaiming relentless, forgiving Light from the center of Church.

    Hoping for a further conversation
    Michael DeBaets

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